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Africa to make a name for itself

December 10th, 2005 by · No Comments · Betting, Football

Since the debut of Zaire in 1974 African teams have continued to brighten the first round without looking likely to fulfill his prophesy. In 1978 Tunisia qualified and despite becoming the first African team to win a game at the finals [against Mexico] failed to make the second round. 1982 saw debuts for Cameroon and an Algerian side that stunned the world by beating a Germany of Breitner, Littbarski and Rummenigge in their opening game. Austria and Germany achieved the right result for them both to qualify in the final group game leaving Algeria out of the second round despite being level on points with two victories on three games.

A rare exception, until recently, has been Cameroon who fell at the quarter final stage against England. Leading the game twice, the Africans were accused of tactical naivet?. Going ahead 2-1 after 65 minutes and in a position where a European team might have closed down the game, and clung to the lead, Cameroon just kept on attacking and finally fell to two ?expert? penalty ?awards?. Both were expertly manufactured by Gary Lineker, the first to tie the game on 83 minutes, the second to win it in extra time.

Four years later it was the turn of Nigeria to reach the second round where they narrowly lost to Italy in extra time. Their compatriots Morocco and Cameroon both finished bottom of their groups and went home without a win and with a total of 16 goals against them.

2002 saw Senegal beating the World and European champions France in the opening game. Although this caught the attention of the headline writers and the romantics Senegal topped that by reaching the quarter finals where they lost to Turkey in extra time.

The interesting thing about the recent round of African qualifying was that everyone expected the five slots available to have fallen easily to Tunisia, Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa. With the exception of Tunisia the qualifying slots were claimed by relatively unknown and, internationally, inexperienced teams in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Angola. The major difference this time around is that many of the key players that have driven their sides to qualification are familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of European club football at the highest level. Is it possible that these teams, dubbed by Fifa?s exquisitely sensitive PR machine as ?Dark Horses?, will fulfill Pele?s prophesy?

Here?s a duffers guide to the African teams that we may have to pretend to know all about once they start to make an impact on the tournament. They also bring the best nicknames.

Tunisia ? The Carthage Eagles

The first African team, in 1978, to win a game at a World Cup finals, Tunisia were sadly unable to follow that surprise victory against Mexico with enough points to move onto the next round. Although this will be their fourth finals they have yet to record another victory, draws with Romania and Belgium being as close as they have come. With Francileudo Santos, of Sochaux, leading the line Tunisia will be chasing that second victory.

World Cup Outlook ? 11-1 to win the group. Drawn in Group D have a great chance for a top two finish if they can beat Saudi Arabia in their opening game. Two draws against Spain and Ukraine may be enough to go through.

Ivory Coast ? The Elephants

Drawn in the qualification rounds with Cameroon and Egypt, relative veterans of World Cups, the Ivorians were given little chance of winning their group and grabbing a place at the finals. Managing four wins at the start of their campaign, including a win in Cairo, and stayed at the head of the group until the final games which included Cameroon. Losing 3-2, and the qualifying spot, many felt that normality had been restored. In the last round of games, in what is now known as the ?Miracle of Omdurman? Ivory Coast beat Sudan while Cameroon missed a last minute penalty, and their place in the finals. With Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora and other established European players they may surprise many especially if Drogba can find that barn door.

World Cup Outlook ? 9-1 to win the group. Drawn in ?Group of Death No1, C, they will struggle with Argentina and Holland favorites to qualify. They may be out by the last game against Serbia and Montenegro.

Togo ? The Hawks

Like Angola, Togo?s road to Germany has been a long one as they were obliged to take part in pre-qualification games and then ten qualification games. Despite their slow start, including a first game loss, they have gone on to beat group favorites Senegal as well as Congo, Liberia and Zambia. Led by Monaco?s Emmanuel Adebayor, with 11 goals, they recorded seven wins in ten games and just one defeat.

World Cup Outlook ? 16-1 to win the group. Will need all the team spirit and luck seen during the qualifiers to finish ahead of Switzerland and South Korea to move on with Group G favorites France. If Adebayor can continue his remarkable scoring run against first opponents South Korea anything is possible.

Ghana ? The Black Stars

Grapping the last African qualifying spot with a 7-0 [two leg] drubbing of Somalia, Ghana may finally fulfill their potential. For years one of the best teams in Africa, winning four African Nations Cups and numerous youth championships, Ghana have never looked in danger of qualifying for the World Cup finals despite nine attempts. They have a strong group of European based players to call upon including Sulley Ali Muntari [Udinese], Michael Essien [Chelsea] and captain Stephen Appiah [Juventus and Fenerbah?e].

World Cup Outlook ? 11-1 to win the group. Drawn with Italy, USA and Czech Republic in ?Group of Death? No2 Ghana will play a notoriously slow starting Italy in the first game, and with nothing to lose they may just cause an upset. They?ll need to if they want to progress beyond the group stages.

Angola ? The Black Antelopes

Drawn in qualifying Group 4 with World Cup veterans Nigeria and Algeria few gave Angola any chance of topping the group. In fact they almost didn?t even qualify for the qualifiers. Due to lack of ?previous? they were subjected to a play-off with Chad before they could join the qualification proper. They lost the first game 3-1 but did scrape through thanks in part to their returning captain Fabrice 'Akwa' Maieco. Since then they haven?t looked back and become arguably the most unlikely team to take part in the finals and the least likely to go home with any points. Akwa, formerly with Benfica, developed a knack of scoring critical goals during the campaign and that would seem to be the only way that this limited team might return with any pride intact. Having said all that they should be chuffed to have got this far with such limited resources.

World Cup Outlook ? 16-1 to win the group. Up against Mexico, Portugal and Iran in Group D, probably the most open group in the competition. If they can hold their own against Portugal and Mexico in the opening games they have a chance of going in to the last game against Iran with only needing a win to progress.

And Finally

During the finals we?d hope that at least one African nation can make it past the group stages. For all the wrong reasons we tip Angola, mainly because it would be a romantic interlude to such a blighted country, but also because the other contenders are drawn in such difficult groups. Another good pointer for the armchair aficionado will be the 2006 African Nations Cup to be held in Egypt during February. All the qualifiers will be present, as will the ?big names? that didn?t make it to the World Cup finals but may be keen to prove a point.

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